Sometimes we have to be careful what we ask for. That’s how I feel about instant replay in Major League Baseball. Nothing is ever perfect; that’s why we call it a “game.” In this never-ending effort to always get things right, we lose the spontaneity of the game. I used to celebrate instant jubilation when a touchdown was scored in an NFL game by my favorite team. Now I have to wait for the review, to see if the call stands. It takes something away from the game for me. I do think the Major League players will adjust quickly to instant replay and the broadcasters will find a way to fill the time. Umpires have not resisted instant replay jargon for several years. “Managers now have something they never had before,” said Hall-of-Fame Manager, Joe Torre. “They have a chance to change the outcome of a game. Maybe they’ll have fewer sleepless nights.” Okay, I’ll accept that for now, but the real question is, how will instant replay be received by the lifeblood of the sport, the fans?
Please understand the reason instant replay is being used in Major League baseball isn’t because the umpires have been bad; it’s because umpires haven’t been perfect. This just in: they will never be perfect even with this system. Baseball, as in life, is not meant to be perfect. Social media allows and encourages instant outrage from fans that enjoy pointing out someone else’s mistakes. In response to this outrage, Major League baseball went back and reviewed every game played in 2013, in an effort to single out any play that would be considered too close to call or a play that may have the qualifications to be reviewed under this new system. There are 2,430 games played during a regular baseball season, and Major League baseball found 50,000 calls that fit the reviewable profile. Guess what! Only 377 of those plays would have been overturned by instant replay. That’s 0.754% or one call overturned for every 6.4 games played, and those numbers would occur only if those 50,000 plays were challenged by the managers. The percentage could easily be lower.
These numbers highlight what most baseball fans already knew; professional baseball umpires are better than NBA officials or NFL officials, period. The reasons are easy to decipher. Major League umpires are highly trained in a Minor League system before they reach the Major League level and only have the one job. Since balls and strikes are not part of the instant reply, there are fewer calls to make in a baseball game.
So here’s the scoop. Each stadium will have twelve camera angles including an overhead cam. Every play is fed into a 9,000-square-foot command center known as the Replay Operations Center. This center is part of MLB Advanced Media offices, located in Manhattan, New York. Inside the center reside eight professional umpires that rotate on a weekly basis along with many technical support people. These folks have access to 30 huge high-definition television sets, and you thought the Pentagon budget was expensive. In a sport where they pound their chest about 300-million-dollar contracts, they will not give us a clue on how much this experiment cost.
In an effort to not slow the game down, every play is being reviewed in real time, and these folks will have seen the play in question several times before a manager challenges a call and the on-site umpires ask for a ruling. Fans are also being shown the replays on their own stadium video boards.
So, you have to ask yourself was the system really broken. Did it need to be fixed? Does the outcome justify the cost? For those who say that one missed call is too many, I would say that’s not realistic and this system will not guarantee perfection. In fact, no system will; that’s the beauty of the game. It is as flawed as the people who play the game. I will agree that this is a work in progress. And yes, there have been six overturned calls so far this season. For Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates the system worked, but not for San Francisco Giants’ skipper, Bruce Bochy. My fear is the next step. Why not go ahead and streamline the process and take the manager out of the equation. If the center determines the call is incorrect, they can speak to the umpiring crew within seconds and reverse the call. Now you have completely limited the power of the manager to someone who just fills out the lineup. Is that what you want, as a fan?
Perhaps the instant replay system should only be used during the playoffs. What do you think?
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Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.